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Review - Hifiman Edition XS

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Also available on YouTube in Spanish: Acho Reviews YouTube 

The Edition XS have been kindly loaned to me by Hifiman in order to evaluate them and create this review. Hifiman has not made any requests, they never have, so the following will be my personal opinions in the usual fashion of being as unbiased and sincere as possible. However, it is always good to consider the fact that it has not cost me anything to try out these headphones.

You can find the official Hifiman Edition XS page here: https://hifiman.com/products/detail/315


Intro…

It’s been a while since I last reviewed a set of over-ear headphones. In fact, I think that the last ones I reviewed were the Hifiman Arya Stealth, back in October last year (which, by the way, are a set of headphones that I like more each time I listen to them).

I will also mention the fact that I am a Hifiman fan and also a big fan of the Ananda. The reason that I mention this is that comparisons with the Ananda will be unavoidable in this review, and although I aim to be as unbiased as possible, my love of the Ananda could create a little bias, although whether that bias could be both positive and negative. I mean, when someone brings out a new model of something that you really like, the usual human reaction is to dislike the new product that may replace it, whether this stance is logical or not.

In this case, I will start out by saying that the Edition XS are a set of headphones that are very similar to the Ananda in my opinion, and have fixed some of the things that people disliked about the Ananda, but are they a better set of headphones for less money?


Presentation…

Apart from the Ananda and the HE1000se, I think that every other set of Hifiman headphones I have received have always been packaged in the same way (except maybe of the plastic insert instead of silk on the HE4000se, but they were still more similar than not).

The usual Hifiman box showing the Edition XS on the front and specifications on the back, opens to reveal the usual warranty card and other documentation laying on top of a foam divider. Underneath the divider, the Edition XS sit in the usual silk covered cut out, with the cable in the allocated center space.

There isn’t really much more to say about it. I have no complaints with the presentation as it is the same as many others by the brand.


Build and aesthetics…

This may actually be the part where the Edition XS differs from the Ananda the most. While the Ananda has the steel headband with the suspension strap underneath, the Edition XS use the headband that Hifiman are using on many of their latest models. The headband is a simple foam and leather covered headband but has one thing that everyone missed on the Ananda, cup swivel.

Well, I say everyone but that is not really true. Personally I have no issue with the fit of the Ananda, it just fits me correctly without hassle, but I do understand that many peoples largest complaint with them was that lack of adjustment to get a good seal. This is something that the Edition XS has fixed and should make a lot of people happy.

But… and there is always a but… I much prefer the suspension strap style headband. In my personal case, the newer headbands create a hotspot on the top of my head and while it is not unbearable, it does cause me to never really stop noticing the headphones on my head. I am obviously a minority in this case but all I can do is share my personal opinion.

The build quality is also very similar to the Ananda, although I do find that the part of the headband that swivels, and its plastic covers, do feel a little flimsy. I can’t say if this particular headband will cause issues over time but seeing that they have used it on many other models and I haven’t seen too many complaints, I can only guess that it should stand up to daily use without issue.

The aesthetics are also very similar to the Ananda, in fact, the only real difference as far as looks is again, the headband. Aesthetics are obviously a very personal thing and everyone has their own opinion, my personal opinion is that I prefer the look of the classic suspension strap headband.

The last thing to mention in this part of the review is the cable. Here I have to say that the cable that is included with the Edition XS is probably the most simple cable I have received with a set of Hifiman headphones, and it is also the best. It is a simple no frills cable that does not tangle, is of a decent length, avoids microphonics and just does its job.


Sound…

When I first listened to the Edition XS, my mind automatically said “Ananda”. Let me just point out that there are a few differences between the sound of the XS and the Ananda, which I will comment on, but the differences I feel are minor and if it wasn’t for listening to them side by side, I am not sure I would be able to spot them easily.

Before getting into the specifics, let me just mention power. Although I have listened to the Edition XS on multiple systems over the past week or so, a lot of that listening time has been in the office using a JDS Labs Atom. In my opinion it powers the XS just fine and to reach my normal listening levels (which are quite low), I have been keeping it around noon or less on low gain.

So, starting off in the subbass frequencies as always, here I feel that there is no difference between the two. The extension down into the subbass realms is neutral and any roll off is more due to our natural hearing roll-off than any drop from the Edition XS. Subass is tight and well controlled, keeping up with literally anything you would like to throw at it. 

Putting it through the usual “Chameleon” stress test, and giving it plenty of power to see how it did, subbass is just where I like it. It is not as boosted as some other sets, nor are planar usually my favourite choice for the lows, but gives enough to not feel that anything is missing and does it in a very controlled manner.

Moving into the midbass, it is a continuation of the subbass. It is neutral, balanced and very clean.  From hip hop to pop, rock to reggae, I find that the bass is just a great representation of clean and neutral. With the lower end of acoustic instruments, such as the guitar on “Crazy” could maybe benefit with a slightest bit of warmth but that is something that I find with (almost) all planars I have tried. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds great, but is just a little more sterile than on some of the dynamic offerings (or higher end Hifiman models such as the HE1000se or the Arya).

There is absolutely nothing to complain about in the transition from bass to lower mids and the neutral balance continues up until we start reaching the higher mids. Resolve shared a graph of the Ananda vs Edition XS on the Headphones.com forum (here) and his graph shows the Ananda having more presence in the 3 to 4 kHz region. 


Now, I am obviously not arguing with a measurement but there is something about this region that strikes me as different and not necessarily smoother on the Edition XS. Let me see if I can explain this in a way that is understandable and not seem like a total fool at the same time :)

The Ananda does give me the impression of being more “active” in these higher mids. As I have said before, plenty of times, I feel that the Ananda is an exciting headphone that sort of shouts “look what I can do”, where I feel that the Edition XS, while having a very similar (almost identical) FR, does not portray itself the same way. I feel that the Edition XS is slightly smoother in that high mid forward space, but… there is a frequency that can come across as very harsh with certain female vocals.

I have a few theories (looking at the graph) as to why this may be and I am inclined towards the fact that the 3kHZ boost does not irritate me at all (when done correctly). However, as the 3kHz mark is slightly reduced on the XS, it leaves the 5kHz mark as the highest peak and I feel this is something that my ears don’t really like that much.

Now, before anyone gets the impression that this makes the XS unlistenable to me, far from it. The difference between the two is very slight and I am focusing on something that is really only a couple of dB difference on very specific songs by specific artists. As I said at the start, if I wasn’t listening to them side by side I am not sure, in fact I very much doubt, I would notice.

Moving up to the higher ranges, here I sort of feel that the Ananda is slightly smoother while the XS gives a slight increase in perception of space. Again, these are differences so minor that I could not choose between the two and would be more than happy with either of them.

As far as details, layering, dynamics and all those fancy words, I really feel that both are on a very similar level. I get the feeling with some songs that I prefer one, on others I prefer the other and in general, they are both great.


Conclusion…

This review has really turned into a comparison rather than a review of only the Edition XS. I suggest you take a look at my complete review of the Ananda (here) in order to get a more detailed grasp on my opinion of them, that will put this review into context a little better.

I feel that the most important factor for deciding between them will be the headband, in other words, comfort. If you are someone who prefers the swivel and the new headband, then you should have no doubts that you are not giving anything up by choosing the (cheaper) Edition XS over the Ananda.

If you don’t care which headband you use and find them both comfortable, then I would again just choose the Edition XS. It is cheaper than the Ananda, it has a better cable and the sound is just as good. There really isn’t any reason to choose the Ananda over the Edition XS unless you really want that comfort strap (which I really like by the way!).

If you own an Ananda, I really don’t think that there is any reason to move to the Edition XS, again, unless you want the headband/swivel. Both are excellent headphones at their price.

All I can say is that Hifiman has introduced another headphone that I feel sets a level of quality for the price bracket. Where the HE400se is my go to recommendation in the lower budgets, I think that the Edition XS is now a reference mark at the 500€ mark.